Heat Pump vs. Air Conditioner: Which One is Right for Cooling Your Home

March 28, 2016

Although heat is included in the name, you can use a heat pump for cooling. It works by moving heat instead of making it (furnaces burn fuel to generate heat) which is why it is used as a two way unit. It's true that heat pumps can be very efficient, but also know that most air conditioners are about equal in terms of energy efficiency. Just look at these two top of the line cooling systems from Lennox.

XC25 air conditioner from Lennox

XC25 Air Conditioner
up to 26 SEER
ENERGY STAR® Qualified

XP25 Heat pump from Lennox

XP25 Heat Pump
up to 23.5 SEER
up to 10.2 HSPF
ENERGY STAR® Qualified



What is SEER and HSPF?


SEER is an efficiency scale for air conditioning systems, and the larger the number, the cheaper it is to operate. The difference between 23.5 and 26 is not astounding though, and the efficiency changes depending on the model. On the other hand, HSPF is a rating system that stands for "heating seasonal performance factor" and is unique to heat pumps. It tells you how efficient the unit is at heating. You can tell from these examples that as far as energy effiency goes, air conditioners are almost equal, if not superior depending on the AC you choose. The greatest difference between the two is that heat pumps can also add warmth to your home while an AC only cools.

Updated minimum SEER guidelines for 2018 for air conditioning units and heat pumps
Updated minimum SEER guidelines for 2018 for air conditioning units and heat pumps


Does climate matter for heat pumps?


Heat pumps are much more effective in hotter climates with less severe winters, save for some integrated systems that use heat pumps as an auxiliary, such as with a geothermal system. We recommend a consultation with a NATE certified HVAC pro who has experience in your area before settling on a heat pump. If the equipment just isn't right for your climate, you could have unnecessarily high electric bills. Once the temperature sinks too low, it's near impossible for the heat pump to draw heat out of the air and it may never hit the temperature setting on your thermostat. This means you could end up running your heat pump non-stop or switching on emergency heat 24/7 during winter which drives your energy consumption through the roof.

How does a heat pump compare to a furnace?


A furnace is a stronger heating system and is critical for certain colder climates. That’s because a heat pump has issues when the temperature hits about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. As unusual as it may sound, during cooler temperatures, a heat pump is intended to pull heat from the outside air and use it to warm the inside air. Although it may be too cool outside for comfort, there is still plenty of available heat for the heat pump to function well, but at extremely low temperatures there is not sufficient heat available outside to increase the inside temperature high enough to stay warm. So while a heat pump may work perfectly during the winter months for someone in Orlando, someone living in upstate New York with a heat pump would likely also need a furnace for the more extreme temperatures. If you don’t have a furnace that kicks in when the freezing temperatures hit, the heat pump can run for hours trying to keep your home warm enough.

How to achieve maximum efficiency with your heat pump


In certain areas, heat pumps can work with geothermal systems, and the heating source is better for the environment because it is not burning fossil fuels and, instead, uses the Earth’s natural temperature to heat and cool. This is a great alternative for specific northern regions, but more land must be available in order to install the necessary piping for a geothermal system.

When it comes to home comfort, you probably didn’t need anything else to think about; but, remember, it’s important to review the pros and cons of each heating and cooling system so you don’t end up purchasing a system that shuts down when extreme temperatures hit, or investing in two systems when one would suffice.

If you still aren’t convinced which system is best for your home, call Comfortech Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning to schedule a free in-home quote. We are available to answer any and all of your questions to help you make the right decision for your home.
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